Clifford Mould visits
AXIS, the smart new dining room
at 1 Aldwych
the fine dining room of London's
newest and smartest hotel One
Aldwych, which has recently been
opened by the hotelier and entrepreneur Gordon
Campbell Gray. As we strolled
over Waterloo Bridge to an early
inspection dinner, my guest remarked
that he thought the name Axis had
rather a forbidding ring to it. I
showed him how the site, once the
offices of the Morning Post, stood
Janus like, looking towards both
the City and the West End. And how
it also faces Waterloo Bridge on
the axis of the Stand and the Aldwych,
benefitting, as estate agents say,
from extensive views over the river
from its upper floors. He accepted
this explanation with relief, though
muttering something about anyone
under fifty knowing little about
20th century European history.
He was relieved to find that the greeters on the door weren't wearing jackboots
and leather greatcoats. Greeters are a peripatetic species found in and around
the entrance lobbies of restaurants particularly during the first few weeks
after opening. They become quickly bored and then they move on to the next
glamorous location. The ones at Axis were particularly nice examples of the
genus; perhaps they'll stay a little longer.
For top jobs in top establishments
Axis has its own pretigious entrance right on the corner of The Strand. You immediately
descend a grand curved marble staircase to the bar which is located on a balcony
overlooking the restaurant itself which is even lower. Given the hugely high
ceilings, it's surprising the original builders didn't strike oil. The creamy
stone and light walls prevent any
feelings of subterranean gloom.
Mark Gregory is the head chef - from Brockett Hall in Hertfordshire
where he was executive chef. In 1997 he won the coveted award of Meilleur
Ouvrier de Grande Bretagne from the Académie Culinaire de France.
We tried his soup made from "Jersey Royal potatoes with smoked bacon". It
was smooth, but a little bland. Much more interesting was a "Savoury summer
pudding" with tomato and parsley. "Layered sweet potato crisps with smoked
chicken, avocado and pine nuts" looked quite inpressive, but I was told that
it tasted a bit like an upmarket sandwich filling. I enjoyed a "Devilled king
prawn cocktail" which tasted very fresh and marine.
The "Butter poached salmon" turned out to be half cooked so we sent it back
- something I always try to avoid doing as it always looks so unfriendly. But
I do think that fish has to be either raw and served very cold and fresh indeed,
or it needs to be cooked just enough to ensure that it isn't slimy in the middle.
The dish also had some clever salmon skin crackling which was very strongly
flavoured as well as a light and well executed potato soufflé.
We also had to send back the "Hay baked (2 hours) leg of Welsh lamb" which
made us feel even more embarrassed, though I must say the waiter was sweet
and did all she could to cheer us up. I thoroughly approve of slow cooking
in a hay crust, as does my guest who rather likes his lamb well done. I was
as surprised as he was to see how very rare it was after two hours in the oven.
Corrections and adjustments were made and everyone was happy with the results.
Meanwhile, I scored highly with my choice of a "West Country fish and scallop
stew" (I thought scallops were fish?) with fennel and saffron. It came
in a lovely puff pastry bento box which had locked all the flavours in admirably
Puddings are excellent and well differentiated. "An excellent trifle from
1880" was sumptuous, and you'd never have guessed from the vivid taste that
it had remained preserved for so long. My lady guest described the "Iced chocolate
Mallow Puff" as "very horny" which I presume means that it turned her on. Elderflower
jelly with champagne sorbet is a must for those wimps who would otherwise refuse
puddings because their tummies are so pathetically small, or large, depending
on which way you look at it.
Axis has all the ingredients to be a very successful new destination once
the initial wrinkles are ironed out. It's very well positioned, has excellent
and friendly staff, a head chef with proven flair and a modern, sharp, smart
The cost of your meal: Starters £4.50 to £6.95; Mains £11.50
- £16.00; puddings £6.25.
Axis, One Aldwych London WC2
Tel: 020 7300 0400
We've heard great things about One Aldwych's second restaurant, Indigo which
features many lighter style dishes. Indeed, my same guest as above, who's
been twice, rated it highly horny.